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To Do lists. Is there a better way to look at this useful but often stressful tool?

Updated on October 6, 2014

Over the years I have noticed that people, often myself included are constantly worrying about what is on their ‘to do’ list. Such worries can include whether they can get everything done in an allocated time, affordability, and practicality, juggling tasks with other responsibilities and simply where to start. In our modern lives we all have so much that we feel we need to or do genuinely need to get done. Keeping lists can be a great way to keep track of and work through these.

To do lists can be a helpful and motivational tool but they also can cause unnecessary stress and worries.
To do lists can be a helpful and motivational tool but they also can cause unnecessary stress and worries. | Source

I keep a list myself and cross of completed items as I go. Sometimes I make a list for that day and other times I have a running list where I add new items to the bottom and cross of what is done with no particular order. Most of these lists I keep in a notebook on my desk as I found that scraps of paper got lost or damaged to easily. I also have a notes app on my phone that can store check lists and text which is great for shopping lists and any other list I need to keep with me.

Since I started keeping these to do list books several years ago, I have filled many notebooks. I am sure many other people can say the same but what happens to these notebooks once they are full? Or if you use them, scrap paper lists? I suspect they are thrown away once they are no longer needed or perhaps, like mine, they hang around for a while and are then thrown away or recycled or buried under other items in cupboards and drawers.

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Which brings my first point… to do lists are brilliant for organisation, keeping track and reminding yourself of what you need to do but they can also have another use. What if you could use them to boost your feelings of worth and self-esteem? By changing your focus and looking at the list as a set of completed achievements you will be able to see how much you have achieved over the day/week/month/year in question. You can look back over specifics jobs or tasks that you found hard and feel proud and glad that you were able to work through them. There are also many other possibilities for this way of thinking. These included remembering achievements, memorable dates and events, new skills learnt, trips taken, projects completed and many more.

Instead of sitting down at the end of the day or week, looking at your lists and thinking about all the things that you didn't manage to achieve, why not take some time to feel good about what you did get done and achieve? Feeling good and positive about these lists and tasks is likely to boost your productivity and make you feel good, so why not give it a try? Just because the to do list isn't finished doesn't make it or you a failure. There is only so much that can be competed in any given period and as day to day life becomes more and more busy it becomes harder and harder to get through additional tasks.

Modern life can be very busy and people may find it difficult to keep up with all that needs to be organised and done.
Modern life can be very busy and people may find it difficult to keep up with all that needs to be organised and done. | Source

This brings us nicely to the second point of my hub. All sorts of people make to do lists, parents, teachers, housewives/husbands, office workers, mangers, students... However diverse the people making the lists may be, I have observed that the lists all have one thing in common. They all contain only additional tasks that need to be completed over a given time period. So, for example my to do list for this week so far looks like this:

  • Pick up train tickets
  • Buy train ticket to Kings Cross (to arrive at 11:30am)
  • Pay bills
  • Macramé bracelet tutorial
  • Covered bangles tutorial
  • Plant seeds for Toby
  • FF letter
  • Change appointment

In theory I could complete all of this in one day but I know that it is unlikely I will. This isn’t because I am lazy, or because I cannot be bothered, am not fast enough or smart enough and not because any of the tasks are particularly difficult or time consuming. The reason we do not get through our lists is because we fail to account for all the things we do and need to do that aren't on these lists we make. Every single day we get through a great number of tasks that never make it to the lists and so often are disregarded or not even thought of. It is 2pm now and I have been up since 9am, but I have not started even one item from my list yet. This lack of progress is not because I have been sitting watching TV, playing games or even enjoying a hobby but simple because of all the daily tasks that are part of my life but are never part of my to do lists. Although my to do list still remains untouched this is what I have in fact done this morning:

  • Washed, dress, teeth clean etc.
  • Gave my son his medication and checked if we need more yet
  • Worked through a zoology unit with my son (he is home educated)
  • Helped him with some spelling while he played word games
  • Made whole fruit juice
  • Made green smoothie
  • Spoke to my sons doctor about a recent referral
  • Worked through an issue with my printer with tech support by phone (resolved)
  • Chopped vegetables and made salad for lunch
  • Ate lunch
  • Sorted through all of last year’s home ed work, put into plastic folders for subject/topic and stored
  • Washed the dishes
  • Written this article

None of these items are on my list and yet without considering them as things I need to do I have completed them all. I am pretty sure that the majority of people can say the same regarding their days as well. When we look back over our days we have in fact done a great amount. In my case today I will also prepare and cook a meal from scratch later, wash dishes at least once more, answer emails, help my children with anything they need and also tidy up/clean the house as needed. I also have some work to do (I am self-employed). Is it any wonder that we don't always get our specified to do list finished?

So many people disregard important daily tasks when thinking about what they have done today.
So many people disregard important daily tasks when thinking about what they have done today. | Source

Perhaps it is time we started keeping a 'done' list besides the to do lists to show ourselves just how much we achieve on a daily basis? I don't think it could hurt and I think that most people would be surprised by the length of their lists. Life can be so busy just getting through the day to day tasks without the addition of extras that we feel bad about not completing. If you actually take a step back and look at your day as a whole I bet the list of things done is a long one to be pleased with.

© 2014 Claire


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    • Elderberry Arts profile image

      Claire 3 years ago from Surrey, Uk

      Sure is and I think not enough people acknowledge those day to day things.

    • profile image

      Barbara-anne Nash 3 years ago

      Great post.

      My to do list isn't always my friend but I am a great advocate of acknowledging your achievements no matter how small, after all getting up, washed, dressed and making sure the rest of the family are ready for their day is a big achievement and should be acknowledged even if it is something you do every day!

    • Elderberry Arts profile image

      Claire 3 years ago from Surrey, Uk

      Thank you for your kind comments. I'm glad you liked my hub. Anna, I totally agree. I often jot down phone numbers, prices and recipe ideas or amounts. Julie I like that idea, perfect for when you wake up on a morning and don't feel motivated .

    • juliecaroline profile image

      juliecaroline 3 years ago from Olympia, Washington USA

      Enjoyed your hub. On my list I use motivational words at the top as a heading, like " Perfect Monday" or "I am beautiful". These types of words tend to shape my day in the way I like.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 3 years ago

      Exactly claire, your post is true to the spirit of achievement. Since we have specified hours of a day, addition or subtraction of hours is just impossible, what minimises the idea of control over time is its optimum utlisation. Your hub provide ample info about it. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Anna 3 years ago

      Fabulous post Claire and I totally agree. :) I use my A4 diary as a day book/to do list and I actually keep them for several years. You never know when you need a bit of information that you jotted down on a particular day. x